My apartment’s kitchen is poorly designed. Whoever conceived the layout didn’t have much to work with: the space is tiny. When we first moved in, I marveled at the spacious vintage cabinetry, since our previous apartment had even less kitchen space. The cabinets span two entire walls, running from the sink to the refrigerator. Their warm, smooth aged wood appeals to me on a visceral level: they remind me of something that one might find in a provincial kitchen in the 1950’s. I like that I can stockpile groceries when I find a good deal and that I can cram all my pots, pans and the ridiculous gadgets my mom keeps sending me (onion goggles, anyone?) into them.

However, the positioning of the cabinets really bothers me on the behavioral level: they’re a little too low over the sink and they jut out at an uncomfortable angle, making washing pots and large dishes very difficult.  Therefore, while the cabinets’ usability is fine, they impede upon the usability of the sink by undermining the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction of washing dishes (I actually do usually find washing dishes very satisfying).


See? I didn’t stage this. The cookie sheet is not propped up or supported by other dishes; it just doesn’t fit. A few more inches of height above the sink and the cabinets would be perfect, but as of now they make a bothersome chore even more so. Plus, because the dishwashing experience is so irritating, my boyfriend and I fight over whose turn it is to do the dishes. While it is not uncommon for couples to argue over this, we haven’t encountered this problem in the other apartments we’ve lived in. Therefore, the sink/cabinet issue creates a larger problem as well.

The cabinets haven’t always been there. This I know because an extra window  appears on the exterior of the building that is not accounted for inside:

extra window

It was been covered over to make room for the sink and cabinets, losing probably 4-6 square feet of floor space. The building is over 100 years old, and much has changed since it was erected; the sink, refrigerator, oven and cabinets were afterthoughts in the architectural design process. The problem in this instance lies in adapting something old to function in a new way. It’s like installing OS X onto a Macintosh 512K: it can be done, and it will probably work just fine, but the experience isn’t nearly as enjoyable as that of a modern Mac. The tiny screen just isn’t fun.

It’s pretty easy to do a usability test on the sink. Since there are only two people who use it, my boyfriend and me, the population is very small. Therefore, my observations are representative of half of the users, not merely an outlier: the margin for error is low. If I say that the cabinets are cumbersome, chances are this statement is representative for the group as a whole. A t-test or any other measurements are unnecessary: I use it frequently and I hate it, therefore it is bad design.

I can think of a few solutions to this problem. The first is one that my landlord will probably not agree to: install a dishwasher. This would mean relinquishing some glorious cabinet space, but it would be a worthy sacrifice, like throwing a young girl into a volcano to save a village. The second is an idea I refuse to do: stop cooking, eat out, and use paper plates, therefore eliminating the need to wash any dishes. Finally, we could move. That option is looking pretty good.

When we are selecting our next place to live, I will reflect on this experience. I will factor kitchen space into the decision. I will never again be persuaded by the bohemian notion that dishwashers are unnecessary or sacrifice convenience for (slightly) lower rent.